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These objections, however, are rather specious than solid. It is true, that amusement is a great object of the theatre; and it will be allowed, that these sentimental pieces do often amuse us; but the question is, whether the true comedy would not amuse us more? The question is, whether a character supported throughout a piece, with its ridicule still attending, would not give us more delight than this species of bastard tragedy, which only is applauded because it is new. A friend of mine, who was sitting unmoved at one of the sentimental pieces, was asked how he could be so indifferent 2 “Why truly,” says he, “as the hero is but a tradesman, it is indifferent to me whether he be turned out of his countinghouse on Fish-street Hill, since he will still have enough left to open shop in St. Giles's.” The other objection is as ill-grounded; for though we should give these pieces another name, it will not mend their efficacy. It will continue a kind of mulish production, with all the defects of its opposite parents, and marked with sterility. If we are permitted to make comedy weep, we have an equal right to make tragedy laugh, and to set down in blank verse the jests and repartees of all the attendants in a funeral procession. But there is one argument in favour of sentimental comedy which will keep it on the stage, in spite of all that can be said against it. It is of all others the most easily written. Those abilities that can hammer out a novel, are fully sufficient for the production of a sentimental comedy. It is only sufficient to raise the characters a little; to deck out the hero with a riband, or give the heroine a title; then to put an insipid dialogue, without character or humour, into their mouths, give them mighty good hearts, very fine clothes, furnish a new set of scenes, make a pathetic scene or two, with a sprinkling of tender melancholy conversation through the whole, and there is no doubt but all the ladies will cry, and all the gentlemen applaud. Humour at present seems to be departing from the stage; and it will soon happen that our comic players will have nothing left for it but a fine coat and a song. It depends upon the audience, whether they will actually drive those poor merry creatures from the stage, or sit at a play as gloomy as at the tabernacle. It is not easy to recover an art when once lost; and it will be but a just punishment, that when, by our being too fastidious, we have banished
humour from the stage, we should ourselves be deprived of the art of laughing.")
It has often been a question in the schools, whether it be preferable to be a king by day, and a beggar in our dreams by night, or, inverting the question, a beggar by day, and a monarch while sleeping It has been usually decided, that the sleeping monarch was the happiest man, since he is supposed to enjoy all his happiness without contamination; while the monarch in reality, feels the various inconveniences that attend his station.
However this may be, there are none surely more miserable than those who enjoy neither situation with any degree of comfort, but feel all the inconveniences of want and poverty by day, while they find a repetition of their
misery in a dream. Of this kind was the famous Cyrillo Padovano, of whom a long life has been written; a man, if I may so express it, of a double character, who acted a very different part by night from what he professed in the day. Cyrillo was a native of Padua in Italy; a little, brown-complexioned man, and while awake, remarkable for his simplicity, probity, piety, and candour; but unfortunately for him, his dreams were of the strongest kind, and seemed to overturn the whole system of waking morality; for he every night walked in his sleep, and upon such occasions was a thief, a robber, and a plunderer of the dead. The first remarkable exploit we are told of Cyrillo was at the university, where he shewed no great marks of learning, though some of assiduity. Upon a certain occasion his master set him a very long and difficult exercise, which Cyrillo found it impossible, as he supposed, to execute. Depressed with this opinion, and in certain expectation of being chastised the next day, he went to bed quite dejected and uneasy; but awaking in the morning, to his great surprise he found his exercise completely and perfectly finished, lying upon his table, and, still more extraordinary, written in his own hand. This information he communicated to his master when he gave up his task, who being equally astonished with him, resolved to try him the next day with a longer and more difficult task, and to watch him at night when he retired to rest. Accordingly, Cyrillo was seen going to bed with great uneasiness, and soon was heard to sleep profoundly; but this did not continue long; for in about an hour after he lay down he got up, lighted his candle, and sat down to study, where he completed his work as before. A mind like Cyrillo's, not naturally very strong, and never at rest, began, when he arrived at manhood, to become gloomy, solicitous, and desponding. In consequence of this turn of thinking, he resolved to leave the world, and turn Carthusian, which is the most rigorous of all the religious orders. Formed for a severe and abstemious life, he was here seen to set lessons of piety to the whole convent, and to shew that he deserved the approbation as well of his fellows in seclusion as of the whole order. But this good fame did not last long; for it was soon found that Cyrillo walked by night, and, as we are told of the fabled Penelope, undid in his sleep all the good actions for which he had been celebrated by day. The first pranks he played were of a light nature, very little more than running about from chamber to chamber, and talking a little more loosely than became one of his professed piety. As it is against the rules of the fraternity to confine any man by force to his cell, he was permitted in this manner to walk about ; and though there was nothing very edifying in his sleeping conversation, yet the convent were content to overlook and pity his infirmities. Being carefully observed upon one of these occasions, the following circumstances occured. One evening, having fallen asleep on his chair in his cell, he continued immoveable for about an hour; but then, turning about in the attitude of a listener, he laughed heartily at what he thought he heard spoken; then snapping his fingers, to shew he did not value the speaker, he turned towards the next person, and made a sign with his fingers as if he wanted snuff: not being supplied, he seemed a little disconcerted ; and pulling out his own box, in which there was nothing, he scraped the inside, as if to find some : he next very carefully put up his box again ; and looking round him with great suspicion, buttoned up the place of his frock where he kept it. In this manner he continued for some time immoveable; but, without any seeming cause, flew into a most outrageous passion, in which he spared neither oaths nor execrations; which so astonished and scandalized his brother friars, that they left him to execrate alone. But it had been well if poor Cyrillo had gone no farther, nor driven his sleeping extravagancies into guilt. One night he was perceived going very busily up to the altar, and in a little beaufet beneath to rummage with some degree of assiduity. It is supposed that he wished to steal the plate which was usually deposited there, but which had accidentally been sent off the day before to be cleaned. Disappointed in this, he seemed to be extremely enraged; but not caring to return to his cell empty-handed, he claps on one of the official silk vestments; and finding that he could carry still more, he put on one or two more over each other; and thus cumbrously accoutred, he stole off with a look of terror to his cell: there, hidinghis ill-got finery beneath his mattress, he laid himself down to continue his nap. Those who had watched him during this interval, were willing to see his manner of behaving the morning after. When Cyrillo awaked, he seemed at first a good deal surprised at the lump in the middle of his head; and, going to examine the cause, was still more astonished at the quantity of vestments that were bundled there: he went among his fellows of the convent, enquired how they came to be placed there, and learning the manner from them, nothing could exceed his penitence and contrition. His last and greatest project was considered of a still more heinous nature. A lady, who had long been a benefactor to the convent, happening to die, was desirous of being buried in the cloister, in a vault which she had made for that purpose. It was there that she was laid, adorned with much finery, and a part of her own jewels, of which she had great abundance. The solemnity attending her funeral was magnificent, the expenses great, and
(1) [This essay, written in January 1773, was doubtless intended as a
preparative to the appearance of “She Stoops to Conquer,” in the March following.]